On Friday morning, Republicans in Congress and state governments celebrated as the Supreme Court destroyed the right to abortion, ending five decades of protection provided under Roe v. Wade. Those Republicans can afford to celebrate because they know this change won’t affect them, anyway. Putting aside the fact that most of them are old white men who would never face this issue personally, they all know they have the wealth and access to be sure that any member of their family—or, let’s say “staff”—were to need an abortion, traveling to a nice clean clinic in a nice blue state could be arranged.
The people who will be most affected by this ruling are those who can’t afford to travel. Who don’t have the resources to put their job or existing families aside while they go out of state, often for multiple days, to get the care they need. The extent of that impact is genuinely enormous, and the most obvious part of that impact is spelled out on Page 39 of the dissent authored by the Court’s three liberal justices.
“Experts estimate that a ban on abortion increases maternal mortality by 21 percent, with white women facing a 13 percent increase in maternal mortality while Black women face a 33 percent increase.”
The numbers cited in the dissent come from a study published in the journal Demography. It predicts a 7% increase in the first year a ban is implemented. Then, as clinics shut down, access becomes even more limited, and more states either execute existing trigger laws or pass new restrictions, the number of deaths is expected to increase by the cited 21% overall in subsequent years. For Black people who become pregnant, the rate of increase is a full 33%, and that’s on top of what is already one of the highest rates of death in the developed world.
But what’s amazing—sickeningly amazing—is that these numbers do not factor in deaths from unsafe abortions. This is strictly looking at the number of additional deaths that will occur if people are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. It’s unclear whether this considers the fact that, in many areas, the same clinic that might have provided an abortion is also the best, if not only, source of prenatal care. An increase of 33% is underselling it.
As The Los Angeles Times reports, Black Americans are more likely to live in Southern states where Republicans have passed hard bans on abortion. That includes Alabama, where Black people account for 62% of those who receive abortions, and Mississippi where 74% of those seeking abortions are Black. In both states, traveling to a clinic where an abortion can be obtained legally is now a trip of several hundred miles—a trip that will grow even longer as more Southern states engage laws outlawing all abortions.
Writing in the Times, Linda Goler Blount gives a stark report of what today’s ruling will mean to millions.
For all women in the United States, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade will reverse half a century of progress in women’s health care.
For Black women, this decision represents something even more sinister. For us, losing access to legal abortion could spell the difference between life and death.
That may sound like a melodramatic statement, but it’s not. If the past is any guide, ending the right to abortion will spark a public health crisis for Black women defined by more maternal deaths, higher rates of poverty, and greater inequality overall.
But then, this is not a Supreme Court that would be dissuaded by the argument that a ruling would have a negative impact on Black Americans and increase inequality. In fact, the majority in this Court would look at that as a bonus.